by Mick Coleman
Frank Rickman (1924 – 2004) was, in many ways, a modern-day Davy Crockett. Some will recall his adventures manhandling moonshiners, wild bears and boars. Others will remember him for carving the Kingwood and Sky Valley Resorts from mountainous terrain. Rickman also will be remembered as the wagon master for a wagon train which travelled across the state as part of a campaign to regild the State Capitol’s dome. Arguably less well appreciated is how Rickman used his mountain-man skills to make Rabun County a popular destination for the movie industry.
Disney was so impressed with Rickman’s ability to solve production challenges that he offered him a job with his California studio. Although Rickman declined the job offer, a little over a decade later he once again would come to Hollywood’s rescue.
Rickman’s contribution to the success of Deliverance is undisputed, leading Georgia’s first Film Commissioner to describe him as a “red-clay Michelangelo.” Not only did Rickman scout idyllic locations for filming, he built sets, served as a technical adviser for filming along the Chattooga, recruited local talent, and had his voice dubbed in for one actor who failed to master a “hillbilly” accent. It was also Rickman who suggested the notorious “squeal like a pig” line to highlight the brutality of the rape scene. As he later explained, the director asked him “What do mountain people think is the lowest critter … (he responded) the hog.”
Following the success of Deliverance, in 1973 the Georgia Film Commission (now the Georgia Film, Music and Digital Entertainment Office) was created to promote movie projects in the state. As a member of the commission, Rickman became what the Clayton Tribune called “the most wanted man in the North Georgia film industry,” serving as a liaison for film crews in search of picturesque camera-ready locations. It is in large part due to Rickman’s early work with the movie industry, upon which others built, that Georgia today ranks among the top five states for film and television production. For Rabun County, the economic boost that film crews bring to the area during filming is multiplied when moviegoers, impressed with the scenery presented on screen, also visit and contribute to the county’s tourism and hospitality industries. The same can be said for Rabun County’s popularity with retirees and second-home owners.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Rabun County remained largely isolated from the outside world. This would change dramatically with the coming of a railroad which also brought tourism, logging and dam building.
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